Saturday, January 13, 2018
"Money matters. If you don't have it, you cannot spend it."
That might be the most head-scratching comment of the week. And if you look at the words coming out of certain Washington, D.C., offices these days, that's saying something.
The comment above was buried deep in an AP story that appeared in Arkansas' Newspaper yesterday. The story was about a report on the nation's schools. It went like this, more's the pity:
Low-income, black and Hispanic kids often end up in the worst schools. Schools that are falling apart, physically. And those kids must deal with worn-out textbooks and unqualified teachers.
Some of these schools are falling apart because of the way K-12 education is funded in this country: Most of the money comes from local or state sources. So in a poor city in a poor state with a poor tax base, the cycle of poverty repeats itself as low-income kids are assigned to the worst schools.
Everybody who's paying attention agrees: Something must be done.
But what something? There's the rub.
In the story, the Associated Press quoted a professor of education out of Rutgers University. In his opinion, it's time for the feds to step in. And, we inferred, to either force states to better fund poor schools or give the states the money to do it themselves. Or, as the professor put it: "Money matters. If you don't have it, you cannot spend it."
Imagine that. Leave it to the education establishment to point that out. And nobody is more education establishment than a professor of education.
For the record, a few years back the Washington Post printed a story that said education spending in the United States averaged about $10,700 per student per year. But New York's school district was spending $20,331, Baltimore's was spending $15,050 and Washington, D.C. was spending almost $18,000. It's obvious to some of us that more money doesn't necessarily equate to better education.
Reporters naturally went to the U.S. Department of Education for a comment on this week's report, and thankfully the place is still run by Betsy DeVos. Her office put this out on her behalf, and please note the different emphasis and tone from the professor of education's comments:
"[The report] is further proof that too many children, simply because of where they live, are forced to attend schools that do not provide an equitable education. Secretary DeVos has made clear her mission is to ensure every child has the opportunity to attend a school that offers an excellent education that meets their individual needs."
Emphasis on education.
The best way to ensure every child has an opportunity to attend a decent school might be through the most encouraging reform to hit public education in a generation: charter schools. There are a number of charter outfits lining up to offer low-income inner-city kids an opportunity to get out of their failing schools. And even more families lining up to take advantage--if the states didn't limit the number of charter schools available. (With an assist from the education establishment.)
Listen to Eric Hanushek, a fellow from the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, who has a different idea about how to improve schools. And one that puts him in a different world than the education establishment: "Money is not the secret recipe," he said. "How much is spent on schools is not as important as how the money is spent." For example, he said, instead of simply handing out raises to teachers, why not identify the best ones, and raise their salaries?
Or, we should note, combine merit pay with raises for the best teachers who'd move to the poorest districts? And allow traditional schools to operate without the red tape charters are already free of? (As Arkansas does now.) And generally focus on the students, instead of the districts and district budgets?
And give parents what they're begging for: a chance for their children to break that cycle of poverty.
When reading the opinions of those involved in these matters, from education professors to parents of inner-city children, we sometimes think that the parties are living in two different worlds.
And only one is living in the real one.
Editorial on 01/13/2018
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